Cesar Azpilicueta: Chelsea are not favourites to win Champions League
MADRID -- Chelsea will need to play the "perfect match" to become the first English club to win a Champions League match away to Atletico Madrid, according to defender Cesar Azpilicueta, who believes the Premier League champions cannot be regarded as potential European Cup winners this season.
Atletico, who have reached two Champions League finals in the past four seasons, host Chelsea at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium on Wednesday in the new arena's first game in European competition following the summer move from the Vicente Calderon.
Having won the Champions League in 2012, Chelsea missed out on Europe altogether last season following their mid-table finish in the Premier League in 2015-16.
And Spain international Azpilicueta believes that Atletico's richer recent pedigree in the Champions League means they should be regarded as stronger contenders this year than Chelsea.
"It's difficult to see us as favourites at the moment in the biggest competition in Europe," Azpilicueta said. "We've been champions in recent years, and got to the semifinal in 2014 when Atletico beat us.
"But it's too early to see us as favourites and this is a good test of our level.
"I consider them [Atletico] as contenders to win the Champions League. They've got to finals in recent years.
"They're a team that fights to the end, they've been together for a long time under the manager, and they signed players before the summer. They know the way they play really well and are progressing, so they're contenders, of course.
"I expect to see a brave Chelsea tomorrow because know we are facing a highly experienced team in this competition.
"It's a complicated 'pitch.' But, having been away from Europe for a season, we want to get this right and we'll need a perfect match to get the three points."
Chelsea's task will be less difficult with Atletico unable to field Diego Costa against his former club on Wednesday.
Atletico have struck an agreement to sign Costa in January and Azpilicueta admits he is relieved not to be facing his Spain teammate.
"Diego has moved to a new club and we have to deal with it," he said. "We have to deal without him.
"Obviously, not to play tomorrow with Diego in Atletico is better for us. As I said before, I played with him for two years, we're Spanish teammates, and he's a top striker, so not to play against him is a little advantage for us.
"He was an underrated player. I was lucky enough to have played with him with Chelsea and Spain, where I hope to meet him again very soon.
"He's now decided to change, so best of luck to him. He was important to Chelsea while he was there, but now he's moved on. So best of luck to him."
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_